Busy is Not the Pinnacle of Leadership


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I was in the grocery store the other day and overheard a conversation between two shoppers.

“Hey, how are you doing? I haven’t seen you for a while.”

“Oh, I am so busy–but I have been meaning to get in touch with you.”

“I understand, I am up to my ears in busy. That’s just life these days–eh?”

This exchange got me to thinking. “Busy” has become a badge of honor in our U.S. culture. I don’t think I have talked to a leader in years, when asked, “How’s it going?” they simply replied, “Great-I am refreshed–living and leading with complete balance, and energy to spare.”

No, it almost seems as if one is not truly leading if they are not “busy” beyond what they can genuinely handle. We equate leadership status with “busy.”

But the dictionary equates “busy” with “full.” “Full” means there is no margin–it means “full.” But “full” of what? Merriam-Webster goes on to define “busy” as “full of activity.”

3 Places “Busy” Will Take You

Distracted-ville. “Busy” over time will lead to distraction. It is really difficult to focus on what’s important if you are always living in the urgent. Isn’t that what Stephen Covey taught us all those years ago? Was anyone paying attention? I can remember many seasons of leadership where busyness reigned. In those moments it seemed as if team complaints were amplified, to do’s became endless, and my inbox grew exponentially. True success according to the mission was fleeting and my level of leadership satisfaction was nearly nil. I was completely distracted from my intended purpose and the team goals we set out at the beginning of the year. That is what “busy” will do. You will be distracted to the point of lost.

Luke 10:40-42  But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Foolish-city. “Busy” over time will lead to foolish decisions. It is extremely challenging to make quality, strategic decisions in the midst of the urgent. You will always choose the expedient thing–that which brings immediate relief. But relief rarely brings lasting leadership satisfaction either. Nothing of worth is accomplished. There is simply temporary relief–and mark my words–it is temporary. If a problem is not thoroughly solved it will return. An easily applied salve is foolish when surgery is necessary. A quick decision is often a decision delayed. That is foolish.

Proverbs 21:20 Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man’s dwelling, but a foolish man devours it.

Exhausted-island. “Busy” over time will lead to exhaustion and it is truly exhausting to be busy all the time. And exhaustion harms relationships. A leader is nothing apart from their relationships. When I am worn out from extended seasons of busyness everyone around me feels it. I am more irritable, more judgmental, more easily offended, more prone toward depression . . . more focused on what is behind me rather than what is in front of me . . . and rarely grateful. Busy usually means that you have crowded out the things that truly feed you. You de-prioritize those aspects of life that give you life. You will tend to lean into the things that only drain you. You will damage your relationships. And you will become an island unto yourself.

Matthew 11:28-30 (the words of Jesus) “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

How does a leader with weighty responsibility avoid “busy?” I have said on many occasions that the key to complexity is not simplicity . . . it is focus. This kind of leadership focus prioritizes the work as well as the play.

Here are a few resources to get you started on good leadership focus . . . and avoiding “busy”:

What’s Best Next-by Matt Perman

Getting Things Done-by David Allen

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People-by Stephen Covey

Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives-by Richard Swenson

How To Create More Mental Focus-a podcast by Michael Hyatt

2 replies
  1. Ray
    Ray says:

    Please add What’s Best Next to this list from Matt Perman on gospel centered productivity. I would be glad to send copy via mail or Kindle.

    Endorsed by michael Hyatt, John Piper and Wayne Grudem.


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